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Rued LANGGAARD (1893-1952)
String Quartets - Volume 3
String Quartet no.1 BVN 68 (1914-15; rev.1936) [37:34]
String Quartet no. 5 BVN 189 (1925; rev. 1926-38) [29:53]
String Quartet Movement Italian Scherzo BVN 408 (1950) [1:57]
Nightingale String Quartet
rec. Concert Hall, Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen, 10 January, 19-24 August 2013, 3-6 September 2013.
DACAPO 6.220577 SACD [69:25]

This third volume completes the Nightingale Quartet’s survey of the string quartets of Rued Langgaard. Volumes 1 (review) and 2 (review) were very well received on MusicWeb International and almost everywhere else. This final installment maintains the high standards set by those earlier issues, both with regard to the music and its performance. Both the numbered quartets here, 1 and 5, contain much attractive music, and the players do them justice.

As in earlier volumes Bendt Viinholt Nielsen’s very detailed and clear notes provide a general introduction to Langgaard’s work and explain the development of the scores as here recorded, which is especially important for No.1. Here is the story as outlined in those superb notes:-

“In 1927 Langgaard scrapped movements 3 and 4 in a fit of dejection, and at the beginning of the 1930s, when he reviewed and numbered his string quartets, his first quartet was not part of the picture…as he had re-used the last movement in an abridged form as the final movement of String Quartet no. 5 (1925), while the second-subject section from the first movement and the theme from the second movement were used in String Quartet no. 4 (1931). A few years later, however, he looked out the first two movements… and revised them. At the same time he regretted that he had scrapped the last two movements, and in 1936 he wrote them down again “from memory”. In this way Langgaard’s first quartet was recreated under the title String Quartet no. 1.”
Got that? Well, the good news is that despite that complicated genesis, the work has somehow ended up sounding all of a piece, and a very satisfying piece at that. Langgaard is here, unlike in some of his contemporaneous orchestral scores, a rather conservative composer. One would never guess, if overhearing this gracious work and not knowing the composer or its date, that Bartok had written five of his six quartets by the time of this revised version of Langgaard’s No.1. With Langgaard’s quartet No.5 conservatism has become anachronism, and having determinedly rejected modernism he consciously deploys the style of a 19th century Romantic and gives us a nostalgic look back to a golden age – and in a pastoral F major. The tiny fragment that closes the disc hardly alters the mood. Though by the way, let’s be grateful to Langgaard for scribbling on the abandoned score “Can’t be bothered composing the remaining parts”. It would have saved a lot of useless speculation if Schubert had done something of the sort.

The Nightingale Quartet are in fine form once more, and bring all the freshness of new discovery – which many of these works must have been for them – to their splendid performances. Their tone, ensemble, tempi, and dynamics serve the music well in both quartets. There is an affecting tenderness and warmth to their music-making, and they are sure to win new friends for this music, especially if Dacapo now collate the three volumes into a box at reduced price, as they did with their Langgaard symphony cycle a few years back. There is an earlier Dacapo album of Langgaard’s quartets from the Kontra Quartet, but that did not contain this No.1, and so is perhaps now superseded by these three discs.

A previous MWI review by Byzantion of the first volume in this series felt the SACD sound to be sub-standard, “almost fluorescently bright”. I can hear something of that on this issue, but with careful adjustment of the levels on my surround setup managed to get a reasonably atmospheric, detailed, and well-balanced sound-picture. The instruments are close, but not too aggressively so, as if one was in the first few rows of a small recital hall. The Nightingale Quartet’s playing can certainly stand the scrutiny, and so can Langgaard’s writing for string quartet, as we can all finally now hear.

Roy Westbrook

Langgaard review index